I am writing this post while on the flight home from Las Vegas. I flew in this morning to be a part of a Data Driven Instruction professional development. During the professional development I was asked the question of what a highly effective classroom looked liked. I was also asked if I thought it looked different for face to face instruction or virtual facilitation of learning. While there are certainly modality differences, I said great instruction is great instruction. Period.
Then I went on to discuss the adjectives I would use in describing a highly effective classroom. I used these five: engaging, comfortable, collaborative, flexible, and safe. Really, all of these have to do with the physical environment of the classroom. There are then cultural forces that go along with each of these adjectives. To be engaging the teacher will use rigorous lessons that might include global connectivity and uses a relevant context that the student cares about. A collaborative environment has a lot of student to student interaction and might include partnerships with business and industry for enabling the students to solve/research real world problems. Flexibility is also the key – in a brick and mortar setting there should be no front or back to the classroom and in a virtual setting many different modalities of technology may be used. Finally, the environment must be safe. This safety not only includes physical safety and safety from bullying, but also a safe environment where students are encouraged to think creatively, be curious, and share those thoughts.
The routines and structures that guide the life of the classroom are also important to creating an engaging and thoughtful classroom. Instead of creating thinking -skills lessons, highly effective teachers must create rich thinking opportunities. It is important to create relevant content students care about. Relevancy matters! Relevant context must be the norm, not a discrete context disconnected from anything going on in the student’s life. Course themes and generative topics make learning opportunities relevant to the students.
Guiding questions help the students keep in mind the big ideas. With the standards it is easy to get bogged down with isolated bits of knowledge. We must remain aware of the forest even as we look at individual trees. Connecting course activity to big ideas enhances the purpose and meaning of the work for the students. In other words it gives them the “why” of what they are learning. How many times have we heard students, or even ourselves for that matter, say, “Why do I need to learn this?” or “Where will I ever use this?” This relevancy makes it easier to engage students in the thinking because they are actively exploring.
Having the students pose unanswerable questions will also foster engagement. Teachers should expect students to be independent thinkers, take risks, and show initiative. Again, why it is important to have a safe environment. Making assignments iterative is also very important. There should be several drafts involved in assignments. This will emphasize process refinement.
This all really means creating a student self managed environment. This includes student to student interactions that the teacher does not control. The teacher should be a role model of engagement in the context of the class. The bottom line is we must provide students with Thinking Opportunities!
I have become caught up in the whole 75th Anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s famous speech. He was so softspoken, humble, and interviews were so few in his era that most did not even know what Gehrig’s voice sounded like. Unlike his teammate, Babe Ruth, he just went about his business without a lot of hype and noise. Gehrig, a first baseman, did some things Ruth couldn’t match: a four-homer game, a Triple Crown and stand-alone records of 500 RBI over a three-year span and 23 career grand slams. His performance on the field spoke for itself. His speech was a baseball moment that had nothing to do with playing. The speech spoke a lot to Gehrig’s character and the respect he got as a player. He was faced with such tough knowledge but realized his blessings and focused on that.
Lou Gehrig to me is the symbol of a team leader who possessed tremendous class, determination, and work ethic. He ended his career after playing 2,130 consecutive games. That would be 11.83 straight school years (180 days) without missing. How many educators can say they’ve done that? I have come close, but isn’t that the ultimate statement of loving what you do? Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken Jr. believed it was their duty to be their for their teammates and fans. Additionally, it was a personal motivation to be great. Shouldn’t we as leaders have that same motivation for our students and teams?
Cal Ripken Jr. eventually broke Gehrig’s streak with 2,632 consecutive games. After breaking the record in 1995 Ripken was quoted saying, “Tonight I stand here, overwhelmed, as my name is linked with the great and courageous Lou Gehrig, I’m truly humbled to have our names spoken in the same breath.” It speaks a lot to his character and the respect he got as a player. He was faced with such tough knowledge but realized his blessings and focused on that.
Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken, Jr. gave us examples of how to be team leaders who walk the talk. We need to realize how lucky we are as leaders and take time to appreciate the opportunities we have been given. When Gehrig said he was the luckiest man on the face of the earth he was saying he realized how fortunate he was be be given the opportunity to do something he loved and had given everything he had for. Shouldn’t we be striving for the same thing in our own situations? I know I consider myself lucky every day for having decided to go into the field of education!
As I sit here in our Nation’s Capitol today with my family celebrating our country’s founding and independence, which I reflected on in yesterday’s post Leading Audaciously, I continue to reflect on what this holiday means to us as the luckiest of leaders. We too should declare our freedom from mediocrity, our freedom to choose, and our freedom to be great!
As I write this post it is the eve of July 4th, 2014. I have had some incredible Fourth of July Celebrations, such as being the Grand Marshal of Lebanon, Indiana’s Fourth of July Parade in 2010. To read about that experience click here. This year, however, my family and I are spending the Fourth of July in our Nation’s Capitol. I am so excited that we will be watching the fireworks from the Washington Mall in view of all the monuments of our great leaders. Many people are writing and talking about doing audacious things these days, but what does that really mean.
In thinking about what it means to lead audaciously, I reflected on our founding fathers. Now there was some audacious leadership! These audacious leaders defied convention and stepped beyond the ‘norms.’ They provided us out of the box solutions for a group of colonies made up of people looking for something a little different. When we have the courage to live out our convictions, Walk the Talk, we lead the way for others to do the same. In other words we are serving as trail blazers. Audacious Leadership works with people to make the changes within themselves to affect and create social change for the world around them. We are all far more audacious and powerful than we think we are. What would you do that would be considered audacious if you knew you could?
Even though the first Fourth of July happened in Philadelphia, not Washington D.C., and did not have any fireworks or really any signing ceremony to speak of; I am still in awe of the audacity of the leaders involved on that historic day! Really, not much is known about the day except that on July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress was meeting in Philadelphia. It debated whether to adopt the Declaration of Independence. The delegates had come from the 13 original states. Many things, including the Stamp Act and other taxation without representation, to lead up to this point. Originally, the colonists thought boycotting British products would cause change. We all know, however, that even the Boston Tea Party was not audacious even to effect social change.
So, on June 7, 1776, the 2nd Continental Congress met and debated whether to break ties with Great Britain. The separation seemed likely, so the Congress assigned a committee to write an explanation of the decision. As we know, this committee then gave the job of writing to Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson took two weeks to write the Declaration of Independence, so on July 4, 1776, Congress voted to adopt. John Hancock immediately signed in large print to signify his bold statement of committing treason. Pretty audacious, don’t you think? Then on August 4, 1776 the rest of Congress signed the Declaration of Independence.
I am truly in awe of the audacity of these leaders. They lead our nation to independence. That is about as anti-status-quo as you can get. Thomas Jefferson captured the ideals of the United states in writing. Those words inspired the original Patriots who audaciously fought against insurmountable odds. They have also inspired movements of Americans against slavery, for civil rights, for women’s rights, for education reform, and social justice in not only America, but around the globe.
On this July 4th I invite you to celebrate the audacity of our Founding Fathers and challenge you to lead audaciously to bring about social change for the people of our great nation and the peoples around the world! Happy Fourth of July!
I already wrote one post this week that was motivated by Rich Horwath’s book Elevate: The Three Disciplines of Advanced Strategic Thinking. Click here to read Competere. I also wrote another post View From 30,000 Feet that has thoughts on strategic thinking and leading strategically as well. While finishing reading the book for the second time I was on my way home from Washington D.C. It was nighttime and if I sit next to the window I love to look out and see if I can identify the cities we are flying over.
This time I was struck by how little detail you really can see at 30,000 feet (actually, according to the pilot were cruising at 32,000 feet). I have shared a picture I took out the window at this altitude with you in this post. Then, when we were getting ready to land I took another picture at what I guessed was around 1,000 feet. I have shared that picture in this post, too.
It was amazing to me the difference in detail that could be made out. This was one of the points that Horwath was trying to make in his book. He contended that the old adage of taking a 30,000 foot view is too high. You are too high up to see anything with any precision.
He likes to use the analogy of a helicopter at 1,000 feet. here, he argued, you can see with precision and clearly recognize what you are looking at. You can see houses, trees, flow of traffic, and trucks backing into docks. So, what did I learn from my experience looking out the plane window?
The 1,000 view enables me to see the whole picture with detail. this will enable me to lead in a way that strategy is developed first, so that great tactics (key initiatives) can be put in place. Think of it this way: as I write this I am on an airplane headed back to Washington D.C. The plane I am on is the tactic. While the plane is what is getting me to my destination; it would probably not be a very successful, or safe, flight without an accurate flight plan. This flight plan and allocation of the airplane to Washington DC is the strategy.
The airline was even able to be strategic and route us around a storm. The reallocation of extra fuel to send us around the storm made our flight safer, smoother, and more enjoyable. The only negative was it took about 8 minutes longer. A pretty good trade off in my book. If this example didn’t make for a great story, I don’t know what would.
From all this I have learned that I must get myself to the optimal height to see the detail needed, but yet still get the big picture. This really becomes a question of strategic insight. An insight is the combination of two or more pieces of information or data in a unique way that leads to the creation of new value. Strategic thinking, then, is the ability to generate insights that lead to competitive advantage.
Putting strategy in action we begin to think about why initiatives need to be pursued instead of just what is being done. This kind of thinking is so important in all industries, but is crucial in education. There are thousands of tactics available that are touted as the next tool for enabling the highest student achievement. But, we have to remember that without strategy we are flying blind, literally! Without a clear strategy and theory of action, we are just completing “to do” lists!
Great strategy enables us to be agile and allocate and reallocate resources to be successful!